Corresponding Author

Margaret A. Riggs


Author Affiliations

Margaret A. Riggs, PhD, MPH, MS

Center for State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Support

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

ORCID iD: 0000-0002-2468-3219

Author Area of Expertise

health services, online health communication


Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic posed many challenges for local health departments (LHDs). This study examines how stay-at-home orders impacted the provision of essential public health services and subsequent increased use of online health communication by LHDs for rural populations in Appalachian Kentucky during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: A survey to gather information about provision of essential public health services was administered to five LHDs representing 13 counties between June 2020 and December 2020. Additionally, demographic and health-outcome data from LHD, state health department, and CDC websites were reviewed, alongside health communications posted on LHD social media pages. Using these data, the authors conducted descriptive analyses to assess how essential public health services and health communications were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results: In Appalachian Kentucky, limited internet access was identified by all LHDs as the most common barrier for clients of essential public health services. During stay-at-home orders, the use of telehealth increased participation rates for programs that support parents for optimal growth and development of children. Additionally, social media was the most preferred media source by all LHDs to communicate with the local population to promote health education.

Implications: By using publicly available data and conducting interviews with LHDs, alongside examination of the health information they posted online, the study is able to characterize the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on providing essential public health services—successes and challenges. Expanding use of telehealth for essential public health services and increased access to online health communication improves access to care and information for rural populations in Appalachian Kentucky.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Recommended Citation

Riggs MA, Ortiz-Juardo K, Klein K. COVID-19 pandemic impact on essential public health services and online health communication—Appalachian Kentucky, March–December 2020. J Appalach Health 2022;4(2):8–25. DOI: https://doi.org/10.13023/jah.0402.03.